Revealing this data at the yesterday's press conference, Goran Bilic, Minister of Internal Affairs (Police) of Hercegovina-Neretva Canton, said that at the moment the investigation is focusing on six suspects, who may be charged with illegal storage of weaponry.
Bilic also announced that the suspects, according to Bilic important officials, will soon be indicted. At the same time Bilic praised SFOR and IPTF members who had discovered large amounts of weaponry in their searches in the eastern part of Mostar.
All three illegal weapons caches have in common that they were set up according to all military regulations, including mandatory [protective] concrete walls. Grenades, which were armed, were consequently not ready for transport. Bilic added that at the time grenades were stored premises of the Textile Factory Mostar were used by Merhamet and the High Saudi Committee but that at this time there is no evidence of their involvement in the operation.
True, investigation has revealed that during the war Textile Factory in Vrapcici was used for weapons production, while after the end of fighting machines were transported to the Weapons factory "Igman" in Konjic, from where they had originally been brought to Mostar.
Yesterday, Bilic was very skeptical regarding the legality of the weapons production in Vrapcici, given that the company "Soko", which produced grenades, had not been officially registered. Consequently, the Police of Hercegovina-Neretva Canton has also initiated an investigation of officials with posts in the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina government at the time. The investigation will also consider the work of management of certain companies and their possible involvement in weapons stockpiling.
The head of the Police of Hercegovina-Neretva Canton, responding to questions of journalists, said that responsibility of politicians from eastern Mostar should not be eliminated as a possibility in connection with the discovery of illegal weapons stockpiles. However, he denied that there is any evidence of the involvement of the former mayor of Mostar Safet Orucevic, about which some media have speculated.
The Mostar Cantonal Prosecutor has ordered the Hercegovina-Neretva Canton police to open an investigation after the discovery of large amounts of hidden weaponry at Mostar Tobacco Factory and company UNIS, Mirsad Resulovic, cantonal prosecutor from Mostar has confirmed for Nezavisne.
"I have been informed about the weaponry from the media and I want to emphasize right away that since taking over my current duty, I have been keeping track of the situation in the Federation Army. The discovered weaponry has nothing to do with the FBiH Army and, believe me, I am personally surprised by the amount [of weaponry] that was discovered. However, if some of the former officers were involved than it is a shame and they should be held responsible for their acts. I only regret that the discovered weaponry was not used for military training," General Atif Dudakovic, the commander of the Federation B-H Army stated for Nezavisne.
SFOR has moved all the discovered weaponry to its camp in Ortijes near Mostar.
"From the cellar of the Tobacco Factory we transported 5,002 mortar grenades for 120mm mortars, and from UNIS several tens of boxes with gun powder," stated SFOR spokesperson Nicholas Rambaud.
Yesterday, the Federation B-H government called on all those who know locations of hidden weapons stockpiles to come forward and provide information to the Ministry of Defense. The press release of the Information Office of the Federation B-H Government emphasized that that is in the interest of safety and security of citizens.
Minister's statement hints that everything that has recently been reported by the media is true: numerous individuals, top Bosniak officials, are involved in the affair - Safet Orucevic, Hasan Cengic, Sefkija Dziho and others.
At the same time Bilic said that the Hercegovina-Neretva Canton Police "is investigating one more suspect in connection with the discovered weapons", adding that the investigation "about this issue will gain a new impetus once it obtains documentation from higher instances". Minister Bilic was referring to the documentation that was requested from the Federation B-H Ministry of Defense and the Federation Police.
It is still unclear what that documentation is supposed to contain, but it has already been speculated that minister Bilic was referring to documentation collected by the wartime director of production in the Textile Factory in Vrapcici, arrested Mehmed Bajgoric, which is supposed to clearly implicate Hasan Cengic and Safet Orucevic. The same is expected from the information that can be provided by recently arrested chief of weapons manufacturing from Jablanica Jusuf Piralic. Allegedly, in order to protect big fish Piralic will refuse to cooperate in the investigation, while Bajgoric's psychological instability has already provided material for speculation. At the same time certain individuals have already taken care that some of the incriminating documentation disappear. Minister Bilic commented on the psychological evaluation of Bajgoric in Sarajevo, stating that he had been "informed of the fact", but that he would be concerned if it was decided that Bajgoric was incapable of participating in the investigation. Bilic also believes that the decision to transfer the investigation from the County to Municipal prosecutor (in eastern [Bosniak-majority] Mostar) "is suboptimal". Although he did not explain why, it is not difficult to understand his reasoning.
On the other hand, it simply makes no sense that the then Defense Minister Hasan Cengic was not aware of 9,000 stored mortar grenades, just like the former mayor of Mostar Safet Orucevic (especially if we remember that he had established such control of east Mostar that nothing happened without his knowledge), since 9,000 grenades are not 9,000 matches so that they can be manufactured and hidden in several locations in Mostar without anyone noticing. At the same time it is to some extent understandable that the Bosniak political leadership did not trust that the Dayton Agreement would ultimately lead to a peaceful outcome and consequently, given its bad experience from the war, used the truce, which they probably believed would not last long, to acquire additional weapons. However, it is inexcusable that after 1997, when it became obvious that fighting would not be renewed, those grenades were not destroyed or at least moved to a more secure location. This way, almost 100,000 residents of Mostar, regardless of their ethnicity, were exposed to danger.
Consequently, Minister Bilic was correct when he said that no one would be spared. Nor should they be acquitted. The fact that Mostar lived for many years on top of more than 100 tons of explosives is a crime against humanity.
SFOR discovered an undisclosed amount of explosives, mortars and detonators at UNIS premises, said SFOR spokes person, lieutenant colonel Nicholas Rambaud. Rambaud added that the weaponry was discovered thanks to assistance provided by factory workers. Mostar SFOR confirmed for Nezavisne that the ammunition discovered at UNIS telecom has been taken to be analyzed by experts.
Deputy Federation B-H Defense Minister Ferid Buljubasic has stated for BH Radio 1 that the Defense Ministry hadn't known about the existence of two hidden weapons dumps in Mostar.
On Friday afternoon SFOR members blocked the Mostar Tobacco Factory and found hidden illegal weapons. First reports state that in illegally constructed rooms in Mostar Tobacco Factory SFOR discovered more than 5,000 mortar grenades, but this number is not final given that SFOR is still searching the factory.
SFOR forces commander General John Silvester has stated that mines, which had been discovered in the eastern part of Mostar, were hidden there after the end of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina. He denied that those grenades were intended for Albanians in Kosovo. Silverster stated that further investigation will show who is behind stockpiling of weaponry at the Tobacco Factory in eastern Mostar. Federation B-H Defense Minister Mijo Anic stated for Nezavisne that it remains to be seen if the weapons have military provenance, given that, he stressed, they were not discovered at a location used by the military.
"The most important goal of the investigation will be to establish whether the military leadership at the time was involved. I personally believe that this is the matter for the Police, rather than the military, given that the stockpile was discovered in a civilian object. The object is not on the list of weaponry and explosive tools [sic] of the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina and consequently I am convinced that this is the matter for the police only," stressed Anic, adding that he would not want to speculate whether the weaponry belongs to the "Bosniak side", until the investigation is completed and until it is established whether the weaponry was supposed to be smuggled abroad.
Deputy Defense Minister Ferid Buljubasic claimed that the secret stockpile of mortar grenades in the underground storage room of the Mostar Tobacco Factory was discovered based on the information collected by the Military-Intelligence service of Federation B-H.
"The Defense Ministry and Federation B-H Army were not previously aware of the existence of that stockpile, and the discovered grenades are definitely not intended for the protection of the citizens of Federation Bosnia-Hercegovina," Buljubasic said.
Mirsad Resulovic, cantonal prosecutor in Mostar, stated that the investigation is ongoing and that so far there are no theories about who and when stockpiled the weaponry. In the whole action, Cantonal Prosecutor from Mostar emphasized, the cooperation with SFOR was excellent.
Esad Pobric, director of Mostar Tobacco Factory forcefully rejected any personal involvement in the affair.
"I became the director in 1999 and I claim that I was not aware of the illegal stockpile and grenades. This object was earlier intended as a shelter from a nuclear attack and has never been used in the manufacturing process, which is why it had never been checked before," Pobric said for Nezavisne.
According to media speculation the man behind the setting up of secret weapons stockpiles is the former Defense Minister of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina (RBiH) and controversial leader of the right wing in the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) Hasan Cengic. Cengic was forced to withdraw from politics under the pressure of the USA, due to his links with Iran. According to rumors, other politicians involved in the affair are Haris Silajdzic, Safet Orucevic, Sefkija Dziho, and former chief of Mostar AID [Bosniak wartime intelligence service] Esad Humo.
Allegedly the investigation is focused on Nedim Efic, director of the weapons factory in Vrapcici at the time when the stockpiles were set up.
Nezavisne has also learned that the stockpiles were supposed to be used in possible new clashes, since the then Bosniak leadership did not believe that the Dayton Agreement would bring peace.
Consequently, the peaceful period after the signing of the Agreement was used to set up weapons stockpiles at two most critical regions in Bosnia-Hercegovina: Mostar and Gorazde. Consequently, it is likely that similar weapons stockpiles exist in Gorazde as well.
Officials from the Prosecutor's Office for Hercegovina-Neretva Canton and Mostar Police claim that, contrary to what the media reported yesterday, actually there is no investigation of "six high ranking persons from the Mostar Tobacco Factory and UNIS". Cantonal prosecutor from Mostar Mustafa Resulovic says that the police is at this point only questioning several persons in connection with the case.
To our question whether any details in connection with the investigation are known at this point, Resulovic says that the investigation by the Mostar Police is at such an early stage that it is too early for anything and that any statement by him would simply be a guess.
"I am waiting for evidence, after which we shall see whether there is enough material for an indictment," concluded the prosecutor of Hercegovina-Neretva Canton.
At a press conference he emphasizes that stabilization forces, in cooperation with local authorities and Federation B-H Defense Ministry are collecting the necessary information that would lead to the discovery of the location of new weapons stockpiles. At the same time General-Major Amarger confirmed that the information about illegal weapons stockpile at the Mostar Tobacco Factory originated from the Federation B-H Defense Ministry.
Over several days three secret stockpiles of ammunition, with more than 9,000 grenades, three tons of gun powder and numerous other weaponry, weighing altogether 110 tons, were found in Mostar.
"I want to stress that only one 120mm mortar grenade can kill everything within 100 meters from its location and that it is dangerous for anyone located within one kilometer from its location," General-Major Amarger stated, adding that had the stockpile at the Mostar Tobacco Factory exploded Mostar would have suffered more damage than during the war.
On a map shown to the media, he explained that [in case of an explosion] in the area 500 meters from the factory everyone would be killed, while at the spot of the explosion a crater 100 meters wide and 15 to 20 meters deep would be created. Furthermore, according to General-Major Amarger, at the distance of up to one kilometer 80 percent of unsheltered persons would die, while 50 percent of buildings would be destroyed. At the distance of up to two kilometers 50 percent of persons would be injured, 50 percent of buildings destroyed, and there people would be in danger of being hit by shrapnel pieces at the distance of up to 4 kilometers.
By the way, journalists frequently refer to data that all over Bosnia there are 54 similar weapons stockpiles.
Chief for OHR-South Jean-Pierre Bercot expressed his concern that six and a half years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement such weapons stockpiles still exist. He expressed support for the investigation by the local police and hope that it would locate the responsible persons and make sure they face justice.
Let us remind our readers that a week ago, due to misunderstandings on the relation Federation B-H government-investigators, the governor of Hercegovina-Neretva county, Dragan Vrankic, sent a letter to Alija Behmen in which he demanded that Federation B-H government deliver all the necessary documentation to the Cantonal police so that the investigation could continue.
The public statement made three days ago by the leading officials of the Hercegovina-Neretva Canton, and the delivery of irrelevant documentation by the Federation B-H government have not unblocked the investigation. Chronologically everything got stuck more than a month and a half ago when the Hercegovina-Neretva Canton Police expressed its dissatisfaction with the passive attitude of the Federation Police, Federation Defense Ministry and the Federation Government in connection with the investigation into secret weapons stockpiles. After that the Federation Police delivered to the Municipal prosecutor II in Mostar certain documentation. However the County Police was not informed about the content of that documentation. By the way, the Cantonal Police had requested from the Federation Government its document authorizing weapons manufacturing and stockpiling of grenades in Mostar, the report on control of manufacturing and stockpiling (last one conducted in 1998), and the documentation on finances of Weapons Manufacturing facilities managed by the Federation Ministry of Defense.
At the same time the Municipal Prosecutor Mostar II requested a month ago from the Federation Police to deliver relevant documentation from the Directorate for Control of Weapons Manufacturing of the Federation Ministry of Defense, then documentation proving that control of quality of grenades had been conducted, names of persons in charge of safety at the "Soko" Military Industry Mostar factory, and the document authorizing hiding of weapons and construction of fake walls that blocked access to the stockpile, etc.
Finally, numerous Bosniak political leaders, whose names have been mentioned as those of potential witnesses in this matter, have also become suspects. Consequently, all of these misunderstandings between Federation authorities and investigators in connection with the disputed documentation are not surprising. It is important to drag out the investigation until the elections, and then those who, according to the media, are most likely responsible for secret weapons stockpiles will have more power than now, and thereby more opportunity to block or divert the investigation. And if they don't win more power, they will for sure win some sort of public office, which will provide immunity from prosecution and protection from the investigation.
According to speculations, SFOR soldiers were providing security for the arrival of the temporary administrator of Hercegovacka Bank Toby Robinson, who on that day visited the company Hercegovina Insurance, owned by the Bank. The OHR has forcefully denied these speculations since Robinson frequently visits Mostar, and on those occasions only uses personal bodyguards. The OHR also rejected assertions that Hercegovina Insurance was the final destination of carabignieri, where they were supposed to carry out an operation similar to that in Hercegovacka Bank.
Lieutenant colonel Nicholas Rambaud, SFOR Multinational Division Southeast spokesperson, avoided answering numerous media inquiries and refused to comment on the goals of this obviously large scale action.
Unofficially, SFOR command reacted to a tip, which later turned out to be unreliable. Whether the information was about the location of a new illegal mortar grenade stockpile, for which SFOR has been searching after the discovery of another three similar stockpiles with more than 100 tons of ammunition and credible indications that another stockpile with about 4,000 mortar grenades exists, or whether something else was the case, remains unresolved.
At the same time Mehmed Bajgoric, wartime director of weapons factory at the Textile Factory in Vrapcici, who is at the moment the chief suspect regarding the manufacture and illegal stockpiling of grenades, has become psychologically unbalanced. After being indicted by the Cantonal prosecutor he has been in custody for a few days at the Investigation wing of the District Prison in Mostar.
Bajgoric has turned over to the investigators documentation that allegedly seriously implicates former Mostar mayor Safet Orucevic and former Federation Minister of Defense Hasan Cengic.
"It is true that my client is in difficult psychological situation, and I still don't know the content of the documentation he has turned over to the investigators," Bajgoric's defense attorney Damir Sadovic said for Nezavisne. Before Bajgoric was taken into custody some media in Mostar had claimed he would fake psychological problems in order to protect persons who had ordered that weaponry be hidden.